Virtual workspace

Gary Shamis CEO, Winding River Consulting

Has there ever been more uncertainty related to managing your accounting firm? Any one of the many events challenging your firm by itself would be overwhelming, but one after another. We accountants like boring, but boring is a thing of the past.

Not meant to further depress you, but here is my list of what is undoubtedly keeping you up at night:

1. A global pandemic with significant health challenges.
2. A technical and cultural shift to a virtual work environment.
3. A deep economic recession that has the possibility of getting much deeper.
4. The sobering impact of diversity and inclusion and racial equity and how it does and will impact your firm. 
5. A presidential election that has us at odds with our friends, neighbors and family.
6. A possibility of a new tax act reversing course of the most recent tax act.
7. Cultural aspects of our society that may be changed by our Supreme Court make-up.

You must have the authority and backing of your partners and team to act.

Switching gears, now that we have a general idea of our troubles, the following are the critical characteristics you need to lead and manage through this uncertainty:

1. Agility. You and your organization must be able to “turn on a dime.” This is best evidenced by the overnight move to a virtual practice back in March. This is not a time to have partner debates and/or organizations that painstakingly process decisions. You must have the authority and backing of your partners and team to act.

2. Curiosity. You need to keep a close watch on your firm and the environment you operate in. Analyze what other firms are doing, understand your local challenges, talk with your colleagues, ask your people how they are coping. Learn as much as you can to help provide insight to your decision making.

3. Caution. This is not a time for “bold” decision-making. People’s health and futures can be at stake. Decisions should be made carefully based upon information, intuition and logic. For example, when is the right time to reopen an office? How should we reopen an office? Are we considering our employees’ health and well-being when making this decision?

4. Opportunity. Please don’t forget that there are silver linings that should be considered and explored. Top of mind are things like renegotiating a lease or downsizing office space, assuming we end in a blended work environment going forward. Staffing levels and needs should be reviewed to right-size your workforce.

The move to virtual has provided firms that successfully adapt two huge opportunities. Accounting firms now know they can have a remote workforce and be successful — staffing is no longer a local thing. There’s no reason a firm in Columbus, Ohio, can’t hire a tax manager in San Diego. Precisely the same rationale can be used when it comes to clients and business development. No longer does a client need to be in your region. This client expansion strategy works especially well for firms with strong verticals.

I hope your firm managing partner receives “battle” pay — they certainly deserve it.

As seen in Accounting Today.